U.S. House adjourns for third night without a speaker as McCarthy scrambles to find deal with far-right Republicans

Key Points
  • The House adjourned until noon ET on Friday, as the chamber went the longest it has in generations without a speaker.
  • U.S. House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy lost an 11th vote for House speaker.
  • The absence of a speaker has left the House in disarray, largely due to the fact that rank-and-file members can't be sworn into office until a speaker is elected.

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House adjourned for a third night without a speaker — the longest the chamber has gone leaderless in generations — after GOP leader Kevin McCarthy lost an 11th vote for the gavel and scrambled to work out a deal with far-right Republicans to back his bid.

The House plans to reconvene at noon ET on Friday, as McCarthy and his allies try to iron out a rough offer that would give hardline conservatives more power in the new GOP majority.

Ahead of Thursday's final speaker vote, two members of the bloc of 20 Republican holdouts opposing McCarthy's speakership nominated alternative candidates to McCarthy: The first pick was GOP Rep. Kevin Hern of Oklahoma, who leads the influential Republican Study Committee. The second nominee was former President Donald Trump, who was put forward by his longtime ally, Florida GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz.

Hern has consistently voted for McCarthy for speaker, but he has not said outright that he would reject the job if McCarthy withdraws his name.

The emergence of another potential alternative to McCarthy was the latest setback in a frustrating day for the longtime GOP leader. Meanwhile, Democrats appeared to revel in the repeated GOP failures, enthusiastically shouting down a proposed voice vote to adjourn just before 8 p.m. ET on Thursday. Republicans then voted to end proceedings for the night in a recorded vote.

"We should stay here all night ... all weekend until we get a speaker," Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., told CNN.

McCarthy lost 20 Republicans on the 11th vote, with one GOP member-elect voting "present." With 222 Republicans in the newly elected House, he could afford to lose only four of them to reach the 218 needed to win the speakership.

The speaker election is now guaranteed to go at least 12 votes. It has gone longer than a dozen ballots only four times in U.S. history.

Earlier in the day, McCarthy sounded optimistic about talks between his top lieutenants and a group of holdouts.

"I think everyone in the conversation wants to find a solution," McCarthy said on his way into the House chamber for the day's first vote.

But less than two hours after votes began, another influential McCarthy holdout, Rep. Scott Perry, Pa., posted an angry tweet accusing McCarthy of leaking details of internal negotiations.

The continued absence of a speaker has left the House in disarray, largely due to the fact that rank-and-file members can't be sworn into office until a speaker is elected and cannot set up their local or Washington offices. This leaves all 434 members of the House technically still members-elect, not official voting representatives. 

Ahead of Thursday's votes, Democratic Party leaders berated Republicans for the party's dysfunction, and emphasized the harm that going days without a House speaker was inflicting on the legislative branch and the nation.

"We cannot organize our district offices, get our new members doing that political work of our constituent services, helping serve the people who sent us here on their behalf," incoming Democratic Whip Katherine Clark, D-Mass., told reporters in the Capitol Thursday morning. "Kevin McCarthy's ego in his pursuit of the speakership at all costs is drowning out the voices and the needs of the American people."

Democrats also emphasized that the absence of a speaker was threatening U.S. national security by keeping members of Congress from accessing classified intelligence that is available to lawmakers only after they have taken the oath of office, which none of them can take without a speaker.

"At the end of the day, all we are asking Republicans to do is to figure out a way for themselves to organize so the Congress can get together and do the business of the American people," Democratic Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries said at a news conference with Clark.

Clark accused McCarthy of being "held hostage to his own ambitions."

"This is about your responsibility to organize government. It is fundamental to who we are as members of Congress," she said.

Democrats, meanwhile, have remained in lockstep throughout all the votes, casting their 212 ballots for Jeffries.

Incoming Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), incoming Democratic Whip Katherine Clark (D-MA) and incoming Democratic Caucus Chair Pete Aguilar (D-CA) hold a press conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., December 13, 2022. 
Elizabeth Frantz | Reuters